JON KANEKO-JAMES says bad science is the fatal flaw in the Doctor Who episode, ‘Kill the Moon’
Kill the Moon was written by a Doctor Who first timer, the first new writer of the season. It’s someone with a great pedigree: Peter Harness, who wrote for the amazing 18th century crime drama City of Vice, and the third series of the BBC’s Wallander.
The quality comes out in the interaction. One of the first things that comes out during the episode is the quality of interactions between the characters.
We see tension between Clara and Ellis George’s Courtney Wood, who we saw being sick in the Tardis last episode. George is a talented young actress, although writing Courtney well did feel just a few millimeters outside of the otherwise excellent Mr. Harness’ range.
Again, we see what looks like the season-long them of what it means to be one of the Doctor’s assistants/companions/carers, which I’m starting to think will be relevant to the finale.
All the while Clara is worrying about the Doctor’s impact on Courtney, we get an interesting lens to see the Doctor’s effect on humans in general, and some meditations on the importance of life and individuality.
The setting itself is an abandoned moonbase in a civilisation where humanity has abandoned space travel (while still having a moon base, which is interesting), and so are unable to mount a timely rescue effort after the moonbase’s crew send a message that mounts to little more than screaming.
After a series of natural disasters, and fearing aliens, humanity gets its last space shuttle out of a museum and assembles a crew of the last people qualified and able to engage in space travel, complete with a payload of nuclear devices.
Captain Lundvik, leader of the desperate shuttle mission mounted by this moonbase-owning yet strangely shuttle-less civilisation, is played by superb British actress Hermione Norris, who did a fantastic job as Ros Myers in BBC series Spooks.
And, although I didn’t expect it, this is where the whole episode falls apart despite being quite good.
You have three actresses who are giving a great performance, put in a room with something to argue about. It should be a great idea, and Harness writes dialogue well.
The problem is that the allegedly morally ambiguous choice just isn’t ambiguous. Admittedly, it’s the sort of choice that a decent human being would feel bad about, but I couldn’t for the life of me see anything to argue over.
It’s the sort of choice that many people have made time and time again: do what needs to be done, then hate both yourself and the nature of a world that makes you do such terrible things.
Not only that, but there were so many redundant devices: characters who are taken away from the action only to be brought back effortlessly, tense moral question where the answer is either ignored or proved to be redundant because of a deus ex machina.
Kill the Moon also made me realise one more important thing: I can only swallow one really stupid idea per episode. Into the Dalek made me swallow the idea that you could have an episode where people where shrunk inside a Dalek; Robot of Sherwood made me swallow the idea that a comedy episode with Robots in Sherwood Forest could make me laught; The Caretaker made me swallow the idea that a romantic comedy about the Doctor living amongst humans could actually make me laugh and contain some good scenes.
Kill the Moon had too many stupid ideas in too short a time. Even if it had been split, old style, over several weeks, having so much implausible writing drip-fed into my system would still have given me some kind of toxicity.
One of the serious problems was that there was too much bad science. Don’t get me wrong, I suspend my disbelief when I watch Doctor Who, but even the softest sci-fi has a line. Usually in Doctor Who, science is basically magic.
There are, however, limits. There are certain things that I can’t accept because they aren’t super science, or science as magic: they’re “Oh-good-god, did-you-even-finish-school?” science. The Doctor can visit a planet where the unusually low atmospheric pressure makes water boil at seventy degrees. He can’t escape a trap by heating the water up to seventy degrees and then claiming that’s the boiling point of water.
Finally, although I have been enjoying Capaldi’s Doctor so far, this episode made me realise that his character does need to start showing some signs of likeablility some time soon. The ‘flamboyantly insult people and be a bastard’ schtick only goes so far before it begins to smack of two dimensionality, and we really need to see some endearing side of the Doctor before very long.
JON KANEKO-JAMES of Boo Tours, which runs ghost and supernatural tours around London, including talks about human skin covered books. Check out Boo Tours website is www.bootours.com.